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Zambia FA critical of 'stringent' Barbra Banda hormone tests

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The Zambian Football Association [FAZ] said they are working towards a long-term solution to what they feel is 'stringent' testosterone testing that ruled out star striker Barbra Banda from Africa Women Cup of Nations.

Banda, 22, was one of four players omitted from Zambia's final AWCON squad after refusing to undergo hormone suppression treatment, after her testosterone levels were said to be above the Confederation of African Football's limit for the tournament.

Banda struck back-to-back hat-tricks during Zambia's debut Olympic campaign in Japan last year, becoming the first woman to achieve the feat, and to net six goals across two matches in the history of the women's competition.

"Our FA President [Andrew Kamanga] is in Morocco and has been pursuing this matter with his colleagues in CAF," FAZ communications director Sydney Mungala told ESPN.

"The Barbra case is just one example, but the broader picture is to strive to see how these regulations can be more responsible for the general situation -- not just Zambia.

"Many players can be affected by these regulations, and football is their livelihood. I think the CAF regulations are a lot more stringent [than Olympic regulations], and they put too much stress on testosterone levels."

Mungala acknowledged that the Zambian federation were made aware that Banda's testosterone levels were outside CAF's guidelines in the aftermath of her star turn at the Olympics, and that a course of hormone suppression was offered to the attacker and the other Zambian players about whom concerns were raised.

"Our medics engaged the players and they weren't willing to go through with it -- I think there are possible side effects," Mungala continued.

"With the players not going down that route and taking up that option, the final decision was that they could not be included in the final list for the competition."

South African Olympic champion runner Caster Semenya is the most famous case of testosterone rules affecting a sporting career, and she recently told HBO Real Sports about the effects of the testosterone suppression drugs on her body.

Semenya said: "It made me sick, made me gain weight, panic attacks, I don't know if I was ever going to have a heart attack.

"It's like stabbing yourself with a knife every day. But I had no choice. I'm 18, I want to run, I want to make it to Olympics, that's the only option for me."

Semenya has since refused to take the medication, rather opting to change her distances, and has been in prolonged court battles to have the IAAF rules changed.

Mungala added that Banda had been shocked at being left off the final AWCON squad list, despite knowing about the testing results: "I think Barbra was surprised.

"She may have suspected it was going to happen, but when it did, there was an element of disappointment and she didn't seem prepared -- or to be expecting -- that she would not be part of the 23-woman squad for the tournament.

"When her No. 11 jersey was assigned to another player, she didn't hide her shock, and I'm not really sure what information she had prior to the final list [being announced], as she was with the team up to this point."

For former FAZ executive committee member Blackwell Siwale, there's an understanding with the decision of Banda and the other banned players -- including Spain-based duo Rachel Nachula and Racheal Kundananji -- not to undergo testosterone suppression treatment, even if it cost them AWCON participation.

"These are personal issues, and she refused," Siwale told ESPN. "Someone should first counsel [them], and tell that how it would affect them, or that it might affect their energy levels etc.

"If Barbra wasn't interested, they should have gone without these players and found others instead, but nobody took it upon themselves to say what [the treatment] means exactly, or that it could have flipped their careers."

Real Madrid-linked Banda has been in this situation before, having missed out on the 2018 edition in Ghana amid similar circumstances, but FAZ, who officially explained her absence in Morocco as due to 'medical reasons', are keen to ensure that her latest exclusion can lead to long-term changes.

"The efforts of FAZ now are more directed towards changing this regulation in the long-term, but not necessarily for this competition. The opportunity [for 2022] has been lost now," said Mungala.

"Where we stand now, the best we can hope for is a long-term solution to the problems, especially because this is a player who has played at the U-17 World Cup in Costa Rica [in 2014], played at the Olympics, played for her club in China, in Spain, and there's even a possibility now for her to move to one of the Madrid clubs.

"Yet despite having played in all of these places, in all of these tournaments, she now can't even play in her own continent, for her national team."

Without Banda, Zambia held fancied Cameroon 0-0 in Casablanca in their tournament opener, and will meet Tunisia on Wednesday in their second Group B game.

The Shepolopolo then conclude their group stage campaign against Togo -- trounced 4-1 by Tunisia in their opener -- in Rabat on Saturday.